The Case of Joss Whedon: How Toxic Masculinity is Suffocating the Entertainment Industry
The entertainment industry has been bombarded with unsettling allegations regarding thriving director Joss Whedon who has been accused by former co-workers and actors for on-set toxicity and abuse existing over a twenty-year span. Whedon has an acclaimed catalogue of notable projects which include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and The Avengers series that have all been greeted with great accolade and admiration from supporters. However, the severe claims have formed a shadow over Whedon’s career, instigating queries of toxic masculinity in this tantalising business.
The latest controversy dates back to July 2020 when actor Ray Fisher accused Whedon of “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” behaviour towards cast and crew during the filming of Justice League. In support of Fisher, fellow castmate Jason Mamoa posted a comment stating “serious stuff went down” during the reshoots for the film and that the treatment they received from Whedon was less than professional.
Following the footsteps of her fellow cast members, Gal Gadot also came forward and informed the Los Angeles Times of her experiences with Whedon and how she had to resort to contacting “the higher-ups” to resolve the issues she had encountered. Host and writer Grace Randolph later reported the matter Gadot was concerned about was her communication with Whedon who had approached her and asked her to perform a sexual scene to be featured in Justice League. Gadot allegedly felt uncomfortable with his proposal and withdrew from the idea. In December of that year, WarnerMedia declared its investigation into Whedon’s behaviour had concluded, but “remedial action” had been implemented.
This supposed “remedial action” made by WarnerMedia was speculated by Fisher to be Whedon’s sudden exit from HBO’s The Nevers. In a statement tweeted by Fisher, he said: “I have no intention of allowing Joss Whedon to use the old Hollywood tactic of ‘exiting’…This is undoubtably a result of [the investigation]”. Whedon released his own statement claiming COVID-19 was the reasoning behind his departure. Casey Bloys, the chief of HBO, commented on the matter and said the network had received no complaints about Whedon and declined to elaborate on why the company had decided to “part ways” with the director.
The assertions made by the Justice League cast have prompted confidence in cast and crew from alternative projects to voice the experiences they had with Whedon. In February 2021, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel actress Charisma Carpenter revealed Whedon had “abused his power on numerous occasions” and had called her “fat”, mocked her religious faith and frequently threatened her with dismissal on set. Buffy co-star Amber Benson substantiated Carpenter’s allegations, and stated “Buffy was a toxic environment…There was a lot of damage done during that time and many of us are still processing it twenty plus years later”. Her comments were proceeded by #IStandwithRayFisher and #IStandWithCharismaCarpenter.
Michelle Trachtenberg, who also appeared on the hit series, supported Benson’s comments with her own experiences with Whedon, writing “we know what he did” and that his behaviour towards her as a teenager was far from suitable. She later added, there had been a rule formed on the set of Buffy to prevent Whedon from being in a room alone with her. In defence of her co-stars, Sarah Michelle Gellar, who portrayed titular character Buffy Summers, admitted the relationship she had with Whedon was significantly strained on set and wishes to not be associated with him.
One writer of the critically praised Firefly series, Joss Molina, added to the evidence via a tweet claiming Whedon “thought being mean was funny” and recollected of a time where Whedon had made female writers cry during a notes session to which he stated Whedon was “especially hysterical” about. The horrifying post continued with him stating Whedon had enjoyed boasting “about the time he made one writer cry twice in one meeting” for his own amusement. Whedon has yet to respond to the allegations of abuse made against him. However, this is not the first time he has been under scrutiny for his actions on set.
The alleged toxicity surrounding Whedon’s behaviour had previously been confirmed by his ex-wife, Kai Cole. In 2017, Cole published an intimate blog on The Wrap of her experiences with her ex-husband. The article was immersed with an insightful illustration of Whedon’s countless affairs, lies and controversial statements he had made to his former wife. At one-point Whedon had admitted to Cole, “that for a decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends” while being married to her.
In a letter to his wife, after their marriage had ended, Whedon allegedly wrote, “It’s not just like I killed you, but that I’d done it subtly, over years. That I’d been poisoning you. Chipping away at you”. The chilling words could also possibly be an indication of his bitter relationship with cast and crew and his apparent questionable abusive behaviour towards them that allegedly took place over a substantial period of years. Although it is vital to mention there are always two sides to a story, the number of people coming forward, including an ex-wife, and Whedon not defending himself against the allegations made certainly negates his innocence.
Their marriage of sixteen years was allegedly riddled with tension and infidelity and Cole reveals her husband had his “first secret affair” on the set of Buffy, where she had aided in his vision of turning the film into a television series. Whedon’s speech in his letter is self-exposing and persistent when he confirms that being “surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women” on the series felt like he had a “disease” and that having one affair would have initially been “enough” and together they could have then moved on and “outlast it”. However, Cole reveals that was not the case and Whedon continued his rampage to satisfy his needs. Raised as a feminist by his mother and having been surrounded by female friends growing up, Cole states this was why Whedon preferred the company of women better. He once apparently told her “he admired and respected females”, but didn’t “lust after them”.
Cole’s frustration towards her ex-husband can be summarised quite evidently when she wrote, “He used his relationship with me as a shield … so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist”. The feminist agenda Whedon supposedly utilises, fails to reflect the allegations of unprofessional and abusive behaviour towards the women who made his projects a successful reality.
Early this week, insider Daniel Richtman claimed Joss Whedon has been blacklisted from Hollywood, preventing him from obtaining projects for the foreseeable future. The man behind the creation of the fierce female leads is now the prime face of toxic masculinity in an industry that hides under a facade inflicted with abuse, corruption and cover ups. The question going forward is; should there be regular background checks undertaken on the authoritarians in the industry and why is there no obvious source of support available in the industry for those who have experienced such brutality?
The answers to these questions are a desperate necessity needed to support the reformation in the entertainment industry. If this is not attainable and resolved, there is no doubt there will be more cases coming to light in the future. The change is now or never.